March 26, 2004

Duh Which Way Did They Go?

Democrats Call Bush's Comedy Skit Tasteless (

By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 26, 2004; Page A18

President Bush's joking references to a search for weapons of mass destruction in the White House drew criticism yesterday from Democrats, who said the after-dinner remarks were tasteless and insensitive.

At the annual Radio and Television Correspondents Association event in Washington on Wednesday, Bush playfully provided mock captions to a series of photographs taken in and around the White House. The president's "White House Election Year Album" included pokes at himself, Vice President Cheney and his presumed Democratic opponent, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.).

One series of photos showed the president in awkward positions -- on his knees, looking behind draperies and moving furniture in the Oval Office -- accompanied by such comments as "Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere," "Nope, no weapons over there!" and "Maybe under here?"

A crowd of about 1,500 politicians, journalists and celebrities generally laughed along with the president's presentation.

But, noting that Bush had used the weapons issue to justify a war in Iraq in which nearly 600 Americans have died and more than 3,000 have been wounded, Democrats said the president went too far.

"It's a tragic attempt at comedy, because the price that has been paid for this endeavor has been an enormous one," Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) said in an interview. Lautenberg was among the first Democrats to issue a statement condemning the comments yesterday.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who was on the dais as the president spoke at the Washington Hilton, said at her weekly news conference yesterday: "It is interesting to me, because I have always treated that subject with a great deal of respect, because I really don't think it is funny. . . . I had thought that that was a little casual about a serious subject, but now the president has made it open season."

CNN, which ran a tape of Bush's bit on its morning show, reported that it generated critical e-mails from viewers, one of whom called it "stomach-turning."

Kerry's campaign issued a statement late yesterday charging Bush with "a stunningly cavalier attitude" toward a serious subject. "George Bush sold us on going to war with Iraq based on the threat of weapons of mass destruction. But we still haven't found them, and now he thinks that's funny?" the statement said.

The correspondents dinner often features the president as a lighthearted after-dinner speaker. That is the spirit in which Bush made his comments, White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said yesterday. "There's no question about the seriousness with which this president approaches this issue," she said. "It's traditional at events like this dinner for the president to poke fun at himself."

She noted that Bush also paid a tribute to the military, including a group of Special Forces troops who buried a piece of the World Trade Center in Afghanistan in tribute to those killed on Sept. 11, 2001.

Asked whether she thought Democrats were using the issue to engage in partisan politics, Buchan said, "I'll let you be the judge of that."

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